Sure, it's fun to get all dreamy about having a wedding of Kim Kardashian-proportions. But since most of us won't be wearing a dress that equals several salaries or handing out thousand-dollar baskets of organic soap at the door, it's probably best to (eventually) wisen up about how to plan your own day, your own way. Shine spoke to veteran professional wedding planner Laura Patterson of The Ideal Day in Chicago about how to host an A-list wedding on a budget.
She shared these five insider tips.
1. The biggest mistake brides and grooms make? Not making a detailed budget first.
It might seem like a big task, but it's actually simpler than you may think. Many sites offer easy sample budgets or templates where you can plug in numbers in just a few minutes. It's also helpful to ask friends who are willing to be honest how much you can expect to spend on items that are a priority to you. Who knows? A really good girlfriend may even open up her wedding binder and share all the spreadsheets and details with you.
Don't be tempted to skip this step or wave it off with vague terms, Patterson says.
"I am always really, really dismayed when clients tell me that they don't have a budget in mind. Really? Saying 'just keep it reasonable' doesn't cut it.," she warns. "My perspective on what's reasonable is completely different than what my mother-in-law finds reasonable."
If an item is listed in the budget and you actively stick to it, your family members, friends and other people who may push you to spend more are less likely to argue with you and you won't have to question it yourself.
"Make sure you won't go into lifelong debt over your wedding. The truth is, it's just one day and you have the rest of your life to go grand. In other words, my advice is to 'keep it reasonable' but also to establish a well-thought-out budget and to stick to it," Patterson advises.
2. Spend a good chunk of the money you have on a great photographer.
"I do not believe in skimping on photography," Patterson says bluntly. "Can you imagine saving for months, stretching the budget that you do have, working so hard to put together an amazing celebration for you and your fiance, your families, your friends, everyone who's nearest and dearest to you, and then having nothing to show for it once the wedding is over?
"Eventually, your memories of the day will fade but hiring a competent, talented photographer will hopefully provide you with wonderful images to go back to time and time again to relive the sheer splendor of your wedding day," the expert said.
Jackie, married for more than a decade, echoed what our wedding planner told us.
"All these years later, I can barely remember who was at my wedding or what we ate for dinner. I am so glad we have tons and tons of pictures to remind us of the details. Funny enough, I love the silly, bad shots just as much as the posed, pretty ones," she said.
3. Make food and drink your next priorities.
"Food and beverages are unavoidable costs and it's definitely worth it to spend the time, energy and money to develop a plan that makes sense," Patterson says.
Where do couples start when wisely budgeting for the buffet and bar?
- Come up with a plan that is both budget-conscious and logical.
When working with an extreme budget, make sure to ask the right questions: Can you bring your own alcohol into the reception venue? If the menu package is simply more food than you feel you need, can you scale back and lower the price of the package?
- Be aware of the food and beverage minimums many venues institute, especially the higher ones that come into play on a Saturday night. Make sure you can fulfill the minimum when taking into consideration how many guests will realistically be there.
- Buffets and cash bars are fine, but only if they make sense with the rest of the wedding. That is, don't opt to a five-course, sit-down dinner, lavish decor, a 12-piece band, and then ask guests to pay for a glass of wine. And if you do go for a cash bar, inform guests ahead of time so they are prepared.
4. Skip the band, go for a cool DJ.
Have fun planning for the party part of the wedding without stretching your wallet.
"It's a party and your guests want to celebrate with you! It is much smarter to hire a cool, hip DJ over a second or third-rate 'wedding band'," Patterson says. "And just because you love to watch a particular band in various bars doesn't mean that their style will translate well to a wedding. Remember that the band or DJ truly does help set the tone for the night - decide on the tone you want to set and work hard to find the right entertainment that will work for your budget."
One Shine bride took her cash-consciousness a step further and had friends help her put together a great playlist she knew her guests would love. She invested her money in quality speakers and simply set up her iPhone to blast tunes at the reception.
"None of us [who picked the music] are professionals, which might be a better way to go, but man, we had a great time dancing to the songs we picked. And there were only about fifty people total at the wedding, so it could be a little more casual. No matter how good the food was (it was!) and how pretty I like to think I looked (ha!), everyone we know who posted about it on Facebook mentioned the dancing. So I guess it worked out just right!"
4. Don't let your marriage get lost in the wedding. (It might just save you money.)
Your time and money can easily be sucked up by favors, passed appetizers, and other details of the day. But how much are you investing in the actual ceremony?
"Give the ceremony the attention it deserves," Patterson says. "A while back, I worked on a wedding where the ceremony lasted 5 minutes...literally. It definitely caused me to pause and wonder how serious this couple was about being married - did they just want to have a big party?"Karen S., Shine reader and recent bride, also adds that carving out time to work on vows and choose music for their ceremony helped she and her now-husband clarify what was really important to them about their wedding day.
"One day, I was ranting about whether to rent napkins or buy them, if the DJ would show up, and how long my veil should be and my fiance called a time-out," she shared with Shine. "We spent an afternoon at a coffee shop, pouring over our favorite music. We both love music. He is in a band and I have played instruments my whole life. He had one earbud in and I had the other and we listened to songs we love and chose all our music. We would have had a really short ceremony but after that, we realized how important it was to us to add our own soundtrack to the day. It made the wedding a lot longer and more special. After that, I didn't even care if I even wore a veil -- that all seemed super silly."
5. Scratch many of the (expensive) things you (think you) need from your list.
Patterson says couples can get hung up on details they see at other weddings and think are a necessary part of their own special day -- but really aren't. Here's what she says can come off the list completely.
- Favors. No way. Get rid of them. They go in the garbage and no one will miss them if they're not provided.
Couture wedding gown.Not necessary. Bridal attire is evolving and buying a dress, even if it's not white, off the rack is becoming more and more common. Check out these gorgeous gowns available at mass retailers, including a pretty fabulous knock-off of Kim K's.
- Sweets Table. Nix it. If you're having a wedding cake, that alone is sufficient dessert. Don't go overboard on sweets.
- Paper invitations. Delete. One cost savings trend I'm really liking these days is a custom designed e-vite over printed invitations. Saves on paper (and trees), printing costs, postage and leaves couples with infinite artistic freedom.
- The minister. No, thanks. If you're not a religious couple, have a friend officiate the wedding and cut the cost of a priest. It will be much more personalized and online 'ordination' for your friend is inexpensive and easy.
Share your own expert tips! How did you make your budget wedding beautiful?
Read more on Shine:
- The worst wedding cliches
- Why we look gorgeous when we're in love
- Gretchen Rubin: 5 mistakes I keep making in my marriage
- Wedding gowns made out of balloons (oh, yes)
- Should you pets be in the wedding?